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Simple Is Good, but Simplifying the Cause of a Problem Is Bad

Simple Is Good, but Simplifying the Cause of a Problem Is Bad

Have you ever noticed we typically attempt to solve problems without fully understanding them? We develop a solution before we actually understand what we are looking at. We never actually solve the problem when this occurs.

We fall into a trap when we overlook problems. Have you ever had an uncomfortable feeling when you just knew what you were doing conflicts with what you know you should be doing? This is called cognitive dissonance and we have all had this feeling. Yet, cognitive dissonance can be a powerful motivator for changing your behavior. Think of the need for exercise. People will find all kinds of excuses to explain away their unhealthy habit of not exercising. Yet, they know they should be doing it. At some point, this uncomfortable feeling may assist them in changing their behavior, but they need a method to help them change.

Developing an Alternative Future

    We must strive to fix problems by analyzing potential causes. This brings to mind a quote from Helen Keller as often times we fail to see what is right in front of us.

    “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

    One such method we can use to assist us is a futures research method focusing on in-depth analysis of current problems called Causal Layer Analysis (CLA). CLA was developed by Sohail Inayatullah and provides us a way to develop alternative futures. [1] So, what exactly is CLA and how can we use it? To answer this, let’s look at how we can use it to move past assumptions and biases in developing alternative futures for a problem.

    How Causal Layer Analysis Makes the Invisible Visible

    CLA possesses 4 dimensions; where dimensions 1 and 2 are the most visible and dimensions 3 and 4 are deeper (less visible).[2]

    Four Dimensions of CLA

    1. The Litany (day-to-day) future where solutions to problems are typically short term.
    2. Systemic Causes focused on social, economic, and political issues.
    3. The Worldview or the big picture paradigm informing what we think our reality is.
    4. The Myth or Metaphor where the deep unconscious story resides.

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      Let’s take a look at how each dimension is framed, questions to ask for each, and an example of each. [3]

      Dimension 1: Litany

      Here we are defining the problem. This is our unquestioned view of reality. For example, I am a former foster child and active in research to improve the current state of the foster care system. Think of our earlier discussion on cognitive dissonance. Whenever the deep issues in foster care are discussed, people tend to shut down and fail to engage in conversation. Instead, they view the conversation as an attack. They know there has to be a better way (and that the system is failing), yet they stick with the model they are comfortable with.

      Questions to ask in this dimension:

      • What is the issue?
      • How is the issue being reported in the media?
      • What are the known facts?
      • What is widely believed and not questioned?

      Litany example: The foster care system is surrounded with a ‘litany’ of problems. The insane reality of the foster care system can be summed up through these 5 key points:[4]

      • Often times you are stuck in a bad situation (either with your biological family or in foster care). If you fail to “win the lottery” and get adopted by a good family, you could be stuck in a horrific life.
      • Foster parents and the foster care system “may not” (notice how I said “may not”) have a childs best interest in mind.
      • A child can be surrounded and literally changed by bad influences.
      • Kids often disappear into the foster care system. Essentially, they are a life discarded.
      • Children get stuck in a viscous cycle of failure.

      Dimension 2: Systemic Causes

      Here we are looking at the systemic analysis and conducting an audit of the causes to the problem.

      Systemic Causes example: The Kansas foster care system is privatized. Yet, the system is in a state of crisis as more and more children are entering the foster care system. The current solution is to spend more; however, there is a strong positive correlation between spending more and the increased number of children entering foster care. This could be due to the fact that the contract ceases payment to contractors once a child leaves the foster care system. [5] Furthermore, the more children ente ring the system creates a need for more foster parents, for which there is already a shortage.

      Questions to ask in this dimension:

      • What factors are influencing the issue?
      • Who is involved?
      • What are the underlying causes?

      Let’s look at a tool we can use to help us in this dimension.

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      The Futures Wheel

      The futures wheel can assist us in anticipating future issues. This also helps us create new possibilities by seeing the world from an unconnected to a complex connected reality. [6]

      Continuing with our foster care example, let’s look at the current problem and see what the future looks like if we fail to change. Let’s look at the consequences and what is causing the Litany to appear on the “surface” in its current form. Here’s an example of the futures wheel:[7]

        Dimension 3: Worldview

        The Worldview is creating the present reality. Here we are looking at the current paradigms, cultures, and values. This includes the hidden societal values and structures that remain unquestioned. In this deeper layer, we are also looking at the values behind the ‘powers’ or influencers that perpetuate the litany. [8]

        Questions to ask in this dimension:

        • What are the hidden assumptions?
        • Who are the stakeholders?
        • Who has the majority of control over the issue?
        • What are the dominant views and ideologies of the ‘powers’ for this issue?

        Worldview example: There are a large number of stakeholders in the foster care system and they all have different views and ideologies. However, it is apparent that the current foster care paradigm needs shattered. We all recognize the foster care system is failing, yet, the current Worldview is we assume people will always do what is in the best interest of a child.

        Dimension 4: Myth or Metaphor

        Moving to the deepest layer of CLA is the Myth or Metaphor dimension. Here we are looking at the images that come to mind when we think of an issue and the gut or emotional responses the issue evokes.

        Questions to ask in this dimension: 1) What encapsulates the feelings in which this Worldview is grounded? 2) What myths or folk stories come to mind? 3) What metaphors come to mind?

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        Myth or Metaphor example:

        • The Allegory of the Cave presented by Greek philosopher Plato is a perfect comparison to the world of a foster child. This example would take up an entire article in itself. I recommend the following video if you are interested in learning more on this topic: The Cave
        • A child in foster care is like a stray puzzle piece. [9]
        • Foster care is like never-ending rain that turns a river into a raging torrent, sweeping away everything in its path.

        So, what should we do now?

        Create alternative futures with the end in mind

        After you complete your CLA, the next thing you must do is choose a different myth, metaphor, or narrative and create new (alternative) futures moving back up through the same dimensions. Flip the current system or paradigm on its head! Let’s stick with the river metaphor and create a new reality for foster children.

        Foster care is like a never-ending rain that turns a river into a raging torrent, sweeping away everything in its path. Let’s imagine what would happen if a foster child broke the cycle of failure… what if the rain stopped? When the rain finally stops and the flood subsides, the old growth has gone and there’s new fertile land waiting to be farmed.[10]

        To help us imagine this, let’s use a powerful tool called Backcasting.

        Move Backwards From Your Vision to the Present

        Backcasting is a navigational tool we can use to solve difficult or “Wicked” problems. With Backcasting, we start with the end in mind, where multiple paths exist. Another way to think of it is to think of scouting ahead. Let’s see what it looks like and walk through an example. [11]

          Steps in Backcasting

          Step #1: Set the timeframe.

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          Step #2: List how the problem is currently functioning by using your current CLA.

          Step #3: Define possible future states, for which I identified three. Complete a Future Wheel for each of these alternative future states.

          Step #4: Work backwards identifying actions and indicators.

          Step #5: Assess risks and opportunities.

          Backcasting is an extremely powerful tool as we can begin with the desired end state and work backwards uncovering (previously) hidden strategies to produce phenomenal transformation. It’s amazing the potential that exists if we would use these powerful approaches. CLA, Future Wheels, and Backcasting provide us an opportunity to radically improve any problem placed in front of us.

            When developing a solution to a problem, we cannot simply look at a single cause and effect relationship. This is not nearly dynamic enough. If we do this, we will overlook a problem. So, we must learn to find a problems blindspot. Lastly, I am reminded of a famous quote by Friedrich Nietzsche,

            “When you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

            Reference

            More by this author

            Dr. Jamie Schwandt

            Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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            Last Updated on October 17, 2018

            7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

            7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

            How is your memory? Is your cognitive function as strong as you’d like it to be?

            If not, then you’re definitely going to be interested in the memory improvement tips I’ll be sharing with you in this article.

            Despite what you might think – or have been told – improving your ability to recall information is certainly possible. You just need to know the right ways to do it. (Don’t worry, as you won’t need to make any significant lifestyle changes.)

            So how to improve memory? Let’s dive straight into the first of seven easy ways to improve your memory significantly.

            1. Meditate

            We live in a world of non-stop, 24/7 information. It’s like a waterfall that’s endlessly pouring news, data, facts and figures into our conscious minds.

            Unfortunately, our brains are not designed to absorb this tremendous amount of information. It’s no wonder then, that most people struggle to remember information and recall things.

            Even if you believe you have a good memory and are comfortable with multi-tasking, you’ll also be aware that there’s only so much information your brain can process at one time. And research suggests that the more information and distractions, the harder it is for you to transfer information to your long-term memory.[1]

            Fortunately, meditation can help you out.

            Even if you just meditate for 10 minutes per day, you’ll boost your ability to focus, which in turn, will make it easier for you to remember important facts.

            If you need help in shifting into a meditative state, I recommend trying an app like Headspace – which can assist you to achieve this in a convenient and structured way.

            And don’t forget, meditation doesn’t just have to be closing your eyes and sitting in a lotus position. Some people prefer to simply take a short walk in nature. This clears and calms their mind, and still provides the all-important boost to their focus.

            2. Get plenty of sleep

            If you’re sleep deprived or have not been sleeping well, then I’m guessing you’re not remembering well either. This is because sleep and memory are intimately connected.

            If you have a busy life and regularly find yourself not getting enough sleep, then this will negatively impact your cognitive abilities – including your memory.

            How much sleep should you be getting?

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            Well, according to the National Sleep Foundation, you need a minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you get this amount of sleep regularly, then within just a few days, you’ll see a tangible improvement to your ability to remember and recall things.

            Now, I’ll be honest with you, maintaining a proper sleep cycle is not always easy (especially when the latest Netflix series has just been released!). But if you care about improving your short-term and long-term ability to remember things, then it’s critical that you try to get at least the recommended amount of sleep every night.

            Are there ways to hack the sleep cycle?

            Yes, there are.

            Try these three things:

            • Have a fixed bedtime (preferably before 10pm)
            • Don’t eat too late
            • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible

            Sleeping is a precious activity. It regenerates your body, clears your mind, and helps with the storing and retrieval of information.

            However, don’t sleep just yet, as I want to tell you about another great way to increase memory…

            3. Challenge your brain

            When was the last time you challenged your brain?

            I don’t mean challenged in the sense of overeating or undersleeping. I’m referring to stretching your mental capabilities through things like crossword puzzles, Sudoku and memory games.

            To expand your memory bank, and to make your recall razor-sharp, you need to continually challenge your brain.

            Feedback from Lifehack readers such as yourself, has suggested that brain training apps are a super-effective way of doing this. Used regularly, these apps can enhance your focus, attention span, problem-thinking ability and memory.

            There are hundreds of these apps available (most of them for free), but I recommend starting out with one of the big three:

            • Peak (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
            • Lumosity (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
            • Elevate (Android/iOS, free, 5 million+ downloads)

            If you normally spend a chunk of your week playing computer games, then instead of shooting and killing your enemies, why not let some of them live – while you put your attention into boosting your brain power!

            Challenging your brain will strengthen your neural pathways and enhance your mental abilities. But don’t just take my word for it, try one of the apps above and see the positive benefits for yourself.

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            4. Take more breaks

            When I think back to my days as a budding entrepreneur, I distinctively remember working all the hours under the sun – and many under the moon too!

            At that time, I believed that breaks were for the weak, and to become wealthy and successful, I needed to shed blood, sweat and tears.

            However, I was wrong.

            Taking regular breaks is the best way to keep yourself productive, creative and alive to opportunities. It’s also the best way to learn new information.

            Let me explain.

            Typically, when studying lots of new information, most people will spend hours reading it – in an attempt to learn and remember the content as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, they’ve overlooked something.

            Namely, extended study sessions are rarely a good thing, as your ability to retain information naturally declines after a certain period of time.

            It’s similar to physical exercise. You wouldn’t attempt to train vigorously for four hours in a row. Instead, you’d take regular breaks to give your lungs, heart and muscles adequate time to recover. Failing to do this will result in muscle cramps and overexertion.

            It’s the same with your brain. If you overload it with information, you’ll suffer from mental fatigue.

            What’s the answer?

            Make sure you take regular breaks when learning new information. I recommend at least a 10-minute break every hour. (You may also want to take a look at the Pomodoro Method.)

            If you don’t want to be as regimented as that, then take breaks as soon as you find yourself losing the ability to focus on the new material. Your brain will thank you – and your learning aptitude will move up a level.

            5. Learn a new skill

            I love this quote, as it’s 100% true – but frequently overlooked:

            “Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

            From my experience of helping to develop the careers of dozens of Lifehack employees, I can definitively say that participating in meaningful and purposeful activities stimulates the mind. It also reduces stress and enhances health and well-being.

            Let me give you an example of this:

            Imagine you work for a global financial institution in one of their call centers. You take over 100 calls a day – many of them complaints. When you started the job a few months back, you were excited to be in full-time employment and working for a household name.

            Unfortunately, your initial enthusiasm quickly turned into frustration.

            The endless complaint calls began to take their toll on you. And the supervisors irritated you too, as they were far too interested in micro-managing you – rather than letting you work in your own way.

            Now, in the story above, the ending could be that you put up with a job you didn’t like, and led a dull and frustrated working life for years and years. However, an alternative ending is this: you channeled your dissatisfaction in to learning a new skill (computer coding). It took you a year or two to get up to speed, but it allowed you to successfully upgrade your career – and the ongoing learning made the call centre job much more bearable.

            Clearly, learning new skills gives you impetus, focus and something to aim for. Your brain loves to learn, and you should tap into this by always seeking our new information. And when learning becomes a habit, you’ll find your ability to remember and recall things effortlessly, becomes a habit too.

            6. Start working out

            If you’re not already working out regularly, then here’s another reason to do so:

            Exercising for 20-30 minutes three times a week will improve your long-term memory.

            Regular exercise increases blood flow in your body and supplies the brain with extra oxygen and nutrients. And a well-nourished brain is a well-functioning brain!

            “But I just don’t have the time?,” I hear you say.

            Not a problem.

            A research has shown that a daily burst of 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise, offered many of the benefits of the longer exercise routines.[2] So, if you’re short on time – now you know what to do.

            Interested in getting started?

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            Here are five different ways that will help you work out:

            • Join a gym
            • Join a sports team
            • Buy a bike
            • Take up hiking
            • Dance to your favorite music

            7. Eat healthier foods

            I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “You are what you eat.”

            This applies to your brain too.

            The food that you eat helps determine your brain’s capacity to store and recall information. A poor diet (think junk food + soda!) harms not just your physical health, but your mental health too.

            Fortunately, there are several foods that are especially good for your brain and your memory. These include: blueberries, celery and dark chocolate. But anything high in antioxidants will have a positive effect on your brain and memory.

            Conversely, highly-processed foods and those loaded with sugar will have a negative impact on your memory. This is due to them providing insufficient nutrients for your brain – leading you to easily suffer from mental fatigue.

            Want to be mentally healthy? Then eat and drink an abundance of these for brain health:

            • Turmeric – helps new brain cells grown
            • Broccoli – protects the brain against damage
            • Nuts – improves memory
            • Green tea – enhances brain performance, memory and focus[3]
            • Fish oilfish oil supplements can increase your brain power

            Here’re more brain food options that improve memory!

            Final thoughts

            I sincerely hope these seven memory boosting ways that I’ve covered in this article will be of help to you.

            You don’t need to implement them all. I suggest just trying the ones that appeal to you.

            But, if you’re serious about dramatically improving your memory, then make a start right now on adopting one or more of the ways I’ve suggested. I’m confident you won’t regret it.

            Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via unsplash.com

            Reference

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